After Kevin Garnett converted a lay-up and drew a foul on Hawks forward Zaza Pachulia at the end of the third quarter, he gestured to the crowd on the baseline and declared, “It’s over. Game over.”
It didn’t even need to be said.
The Celtics blew open the game in the third quarter and ran away from the Hawks this afternoon in Game 7 of their first round series at the TD Banknorth Garden. Boston avoids the biggest upset in NBA playoff history and moves on to the second round of the playoffs to play the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This one was never close. The Celtics smothered the Hawks defensively all game, holding Atlanta to 29 percent shooting and forcing 17 Hawks turnovers. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 16 points but was just 5 of 17 from the field.
The national media was out in force for this game, and nervous Celtics fans filed into the Garden for an afternoon game they didn’t think would have to be played. But the crowd was into the game from the start, standing and clapping for most of the first half. They didn’t sit down until the game was winding down in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics didn’t have their best offensive game of the season, but they didn’t need it. The C’s shot just 3 of 18 on threes and had only 20 assists on 40 field goals.
Garnett (18 points and 11 rebounds) and Kendrick Perkins (10 points and 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles for the Celtics. Paul Pierce led Boston in scoring with 22 points.
Johnson and Salim Stoudamire (10 points) were the only Hawks players in double-figures.
The fact that this series went seven games is a knock on a Celtics team with championship aspirations, but Celtics players seemed bent on proving that nothing was wrong by pounding the Hawks into the ground in Game 7. They seemed to be saying, “We can beat you by as much as we want to.”
The game featured some testy moments as well. Marvin Willams gave a flagrant foul to Rajon Rondo in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, Garnett set a hard pick on Pachulia, and the Hawks forward went down like a ton of bricks. While Garnett’s screen was not malicious (Pachulia didn’t see him and ran right into it), Garnett sat out the rest of the game to prevent the Hawks from retaliating.
The Celtics didn’t talk much before the game, and Paul Pierce said he is boycotting the media until after the first round. It will be interesting to see what Celtics players, particularly Pierce, say after the game.
We’ll have plenty of reaction from the locker rooms in a bit.